Story and recipe by Laurel Miller
September 17 kicks off the 22nd annual Telluride Blues & Brews Festival. As a former resident of the place I affectionately call the little drinking town with a big ski problem, I’ve been to all of Telluride’s many festivals and Blues & Brews is my hands-down favorite. There aren’t many places where you can hear world-class artists—past line-ups have included Willy Nelson, The Black Crowes, The Flaming Lips, The Violent Femmes, and late greats B.B. King, Lou Reed, and Joe Cocker—playing in a box canyon at nearly 9,000 feet.
Combined with the blaze of fall colors on the surrounding peaks, 170 styles of beer from 56 micro- and craft breweries from the Western states, small-venue shows at the Late Night Juke Joints, Cajun flavor, and an always-great crowd, it makes for a memorable weekend.
This year, headliners ZZ Top, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, and Gregg Allman will be joined by the likes of Anders Osborne, The Revivalists and Rich Robinson. There’s no bad way to do Blues & Brews, but it would be a mistake to rely only upon the festival vendors for nourishment. Telluride’s food scene started to gain traction last year (I used to bemoan the lack of a great bakery, for starters) and there’s a few places in town key to surviving a weekend of Blues & Brewsing, especially pre—and post—Saturday Grand Tasting, which is a bacchanal of beer. This year the Roaring and North Fork Valley’s will represent with booths from Aspen Brewing Company, Carbondale Beerworks, Roaring Fork Beer Company, and Big B’s Hard Cider.
Lining your stomach is paramount at a beer and music festival, especially if you expect to remain coherent and awake until the wee hours. Caffeinate at the coffee bar located in Between the Covers bookstore, or at The Butcher & Baker. The latter, which relocated to larger digs at the east end of the main drag last winter, features heavenly sweet and savory pastries (no small feat at this altitude), as well as breakfast sammies and burritos (filled with sweet potato, sausage, and black beans, and useful for abating festival-induced hangovers), scones, gooey cookies, quiches, and a rotating menu of creative sandwiches (say, house-roasted turkey with green tomato jam, Provolone, greens, and Champagne vinaigrette), salads, soup, and prepared foods, sourced with local ingredients in season. Love.
Locals also flock to La Cocina de Luz for bleary, morning-after breakfasts made with local ingredients whenever possible. I love the field greens salad with chicken, doused with housemade condiments from the salsa bar. Also helpful: made-to-order juices like the popular “Detoxify,” made with apples, beets, carrots, kale, wheat grass, turmeric, and ginger.
It’s lunchtime, and it wouldn’t be Blues & Brews without barbecue, so get yourself to Oak…the New Fat Alley. Before moving to a bigger space at the base of Chair 8/across from the gondola station, it was Fat Alley, and located in an old Victorian on S. Oak, where the masses ordered ribs and pulled pork washed down with bacon-bourbon shots. While the new incarnation has lost the ambiance of creaky hardwood, it’s always hopping, especially during this weekend and for après ski.
Dinner means two things: Happy Hour (Mojito and a roll-of-the-day for a ten-spot) at Honga’s Lotus Petal. Get there early or be prepared to wait (and wait); it’s all about sitting at the bar. While under new ownership, this 27-year-old Telluride institution is where locals go for affordable eats (not the case if you stray from the Happy Hour menu) and socialize. There’s also a full menu of Pan-Asian items.
Smuggler’s Brewpub has been around over two decades, but last year owners Josh and Melissa Klein did a full remodel, turning a tired ski town brewpub into a high-style mountain gastropub with a killer menu that does justice to brewer TJ Daly’s small-batch, seasonal microbrews (try the wild mushroom ale, made especially for August’s Mushroom Festival). The Vanilla Porter—surprisingly masculine and ideal for crisp fall weather- is all warm, honeyed notes with a full, chocolatey finish. Add to the carboloading with one of Smuggler’s decadent loaded burgers and hand-cut fries, or the local’s fave—elk Bolognese. Stomach lined, you’re now primed for a night of revelry at the Juke Joints.
Post-show, there’s no shortage of places to get your drink on in Telluride, especially in the dive bar realm. Besides the classic watering holes hosting Juke Joints on Friday and Saturday nights (tickets sold here), spend some time at The Last Dollar Saloon (aka “The Buck”), O’ Bannon’s (OB’s) and the New Sheridan Hotel’s adjacent historic bar (the $5 drink happy hour specials pack them in, but the place is also heaving with late-night Blues attendees). Telluride has one spot for late-night munchies, and it can be a lifesaver. Brown Dog Pizza will cure what ails you, especially if you can score a slice from a freshly-made pie.
If you don’t have tickets, it’s not too late. VIP passes are sold out, you can still get the final few days, Juke Joint, camping, and Sunday Late Night tickets for the Fais Do-Do (a Cajun term mothers used to get the babies to sleep while the menfolk danced). There’s also a special Campground Sessions stage; only registered campers can attend shows. If you’re roughing it, though, be prepared for rain, and possibly a bit of early snow. And don’t forget to kick things off with a stop at Telluride Brewing Company in Lawson Hill on your way into town. Le bon temps roule!
Grilled Sausages with Grapes, Wilted Greens, and Avalanche Goat Cheddar
This rustic, hearty dish is the ideal foil for your favorite brew on chilly fall nights. Be sure to serve with crusty bread for sopping up the juices.
8 Avalanche Cheese Company goat-pork sausages, or sweet Italian sausage
½ bunch seedless purple table grapes, washed, and stemmed
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Extra virgin olive oil, (approximately 2-3 tablespoons)
Two sprigs thyme
1 medium shallot, finely minced
⅛ to ¼ cup red wine
5 handfuls baby arugula
2 ounces Avalanche Cheese Company Goat Cheddar, or aged pecorino, shaved with a vegetable peeler
1. Preheat grill until coals are white hot, and preheat the oven to 375°. On an unlined baking sheet, toss the grapes with just enough olive oil to lightly coat them; then season with salt and pepper, add the thyme, and toss once again to distribute seasoning.
2. Roast for 15 minutes, checking grapes every 5 minutes and using a spatula to move them around. The grapes are done when they’re slightly golden and a bit shriveled, and have released some of their juices.
3. Remove the pan of grapes from the oven; the juices should have caramelized somewhat. Pour the red wine into the hot pan, and use a spatula to scrape up the caramelized bits, being careful not to squash the grapes. Allow the residual heat from the pan to evaporate most of the wine so that you’re left with a thin glaze. Scrape the contents of the baking sheet into a small frying pan and set aside.
4. While grapes are roasting, add the sausages to grill. Cook until done, place on a clean plate, and cover with foil to retain heat.
5. Reheat the grapes and glaze in the frying pan over medium-high heat, adding a bit more wine if necessary. Check seasoning, and remove from heat.
6. Divide the arugula amongst four dinner plates, making a mound of it in the center of each. Add two sausages to each plate, and then top with the grape/glaze mixture. Garnish the top of each with shaved cheese. Serve immediately.
Laurel Miller is a Basalt-based food and travel writer and cheese consultant, the co-author of Cheese for Dummies and the contributing editor at the magazine culture: the word on cheese. She persists in freelancing because it gives her more time to play outside. Find out more about Laurel at SustainableKitchen.com.